In his new autobiography, Honestly: My Life And Stryper Revealed, guitarist Michael Sweet bares his soul. Within its pages, the Stryper frontman details everything from his humble upbringing and troubles with the law to the rise, fall and rebirth of Stryper.
From the creation of the signature Stryper guitar sound to his stint touring with Boston and the tragic loss of his beloved wife Kyle, Sweet spares no expense when looking back on his life as husband, father, bandmate and Christian.
Honestly is more than just a biography or reflection of old road stories. It's a spiritual journey and heartfelt look into the mind of one of the most recognizable voices in rock and a true guitar great.
Sweet also is about to release a new solo album, I’m Not Your Suicide, which gives him the opportunity to showcase a different side of his musical persona. The impressive disc combines hard rock and metal messages ("Taking On The World Tonight," "I'm Not Your Suicide"), elements of classic rock (a cover of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold") and country ("Coming Home").
I recently spoke to Sweet about his autobiography and album, both of which will be released May 6, and his other upcoming projects.
GUITAR WORLD: What made you decide to write a book at this stage of your life?
I had a lot to say and also felt the need to do it in terms of it being therapeutic and healing for me. People have also had lots of question marks over the years and wanted to know things. I thought the best thing to do would be to deal with all of it in a book and tell everyone the story.
What was the writing process like?
I was interviewed for almost 16 hours by a gentleman named Doug Van Pelt. He’s a writer who ran HM magazine for a long time. He transcribed the interviews, and then Dave Rose and I took it from there. Dave would write a chapter and send it to me. Then I would re-write and tweak it. We went back and forth that way for almost two years. It was a long process. Even though it's only around 300 pages, it feels like it should be a 3,000-page book.
One of the interesting stories I read was how C.C. DeVille of Poison almost became a member of Stryper.
We were ready to do it and sign on the dotted line, but then he decided that he didn’t want to do the "yellow and black thing," and that was it. But there were no hard feelings about it. We wished him well, and he's obviously gone on to become very successful. He made a good decision, as did we.
When Stryper was working the LA scene, did you encounter any hostility from other bands because of your Christian beliefs?
We did on occasion, but it never got vocal and we never got into any confrontations over it. Sometimes you could just sense the frustration and feel the heaviness when we would go play clubs and festivals with other bands. And there were times when we'd ask ourselves, “OK, why are we even here?” But then we'd always remind ourselves that we were there because we wanted to be; and because we wanted to share our message and our music with a different crowd.
You mention going through a lot of difficult times during your life. Troubles with finances, your decision to leave Stryper and the tragic loss of your wife, Kyle. Did you at any point ever find yourself questioning your faith?
Absolutely. Many times along the way, I found myself questioning God. There was even a time when my wife was sick and dying that I literally didn’t believe there even was a God. I felt we had devoted our lives to God, and now this was the "thanks" we got? Not that God owed us any thanks, but at the time I was just mad at God.
What pulled you through?
I have a great support group around me: my family and friends, my pastor — and music. God has blessed me with the gift and ability to do music, and it’s a tool that has a very powerful effect on people. It really helped get me through. Not long after that experience, I decided we were going to tour. It gave me the opportunity to go out on the road to help inspire and encourage people with music and the message. By doing so, it inspired me as well.
What message would you like readers to take away from reading Honestly?
At the end of the day, my hope and prayers are that people who read the book will be inspired by it. The book is an accounting of what I've gone through in my life, and I really hope it will help people.
Your new solo album, I’m Not Your Suicide, showcases a different side of Michael Sweet. Was that your intention?
I've always loved writing, recording and producing music and getting the chance to experiment with new things. I did that a little bit more on this album. The truth is I love all kinds of music. If you were to look at my CD and mp3 collection, you'd see I love classic rock, metal, country and pop. If it's a good song that’s well written and recorded, I'm there.
What was the inspiration behind the song "I'm Not Your Suicide"?
I was saddened to read stories about people, especially kids, who were taking their own lives because they had been bullied or abused. It really breaks my heart. As a young kid, I was bullied and had to go to school on a daily basis with that fear. I wanted to write an anthem that inspired people to rise above that. To let them know their lives are valuable. I hooked up with ChildHelp and we made a video for the song that’s being shown in a lot of schools. I'm hoping it helps people who are bullied to be strong and do something about it. Because there is something that can be done.
Why did you decide to do a country-style song?
Those are my roots. My dad's a country writer and singer and I grew up around country music. So I thought I’d do something with country flair and that’s the song “Coming Home."
What other projects are you working on?
I’ve just wrapped a new album with George Lynch, Brian Tichy and James Lomenzo. It’s classic rock that takes you back to the late Seventies and early Eighties, and it sounds killer. I'm really excited about it.
What’s next for Stryper?
We’ll be playing a bunch of U.S. and European dates this summer and have a new live album coming out late this year called Live at the Whisky. We're also planning to start work on another new Stryper album early in 2015. The next few years are going to be busy, but we’re not slowing down. We've still got a lot of life left in us.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.